As the penultimate event of the season, the Corona Open J-Bay was a make or break event for many surfers looking to lock in a spot in the final five of this year’s Championship Tour. Conditions matched the stakes from the get-go, with J-Bay turning on from the beginning of the event window and offering up some of the most dreamy conditions imaginable over three days of high-intensity competitions. This is how the women’s event went down.
In pumping conditions, there were a number of high-quality performances in the Opening Round of the women’s Corona Open J-Bay. Carissa Moore was, unsurprisingly, one of them, winning the second heat with a 14.50 total, though even that score was bested in the next heat by Caroline Marks, who put together a 14.66 to advance straight through to the quarterfinals. Tatiana Weston-Webb, flying the flag for the goofy-footers, won the fourth heat of the round with a solid total, while the other winner was Brisa Hennessy in a lower scoring heat. Intriguingly, three of the top four ranked women in the world – Johanne Defay, Steph Gilmore and Lakey Peterson – all failed to win their heats, as did Tyler Wright, setting up a pivotal Elimination Round.
As it turned out, most of them needed not worry. Defay was far too good for Tia Blanco in the first heat before Gilmore put on a show in defeating Courtney Conlogue. Peterson, however, had the misfortune of being matched up against Wright, who was looking to work her way back into world title contention following a string of missed events, and the American was duly eliminated in a result which could easily cost her a finals spot. Gabriela Bryan and Isabella Nichols matched up in the final heat of the round; with both of them needing a big result to stay in contention for the top five, it was Bryan who snuck over the line in a tense heat, all but ending Nichols finals hopes in the process.
Defay was the next unlucky top-five aspirant to come up against Wright earlier than she would have liked, and the Aussie proved why she is still a threat for the world title if she can scrape into the top five with a 14.00 heat total to eliminate the world number two. In incredible conditions, Gilmore then went even better, mustering up a 16.26 to send Bryan packing from the contest and likely finals contention. A big heat between Moore and Marks followed, but unfortunately the latter failed to fire and Moore’s 14.50 proved more than enough to advance. That left Weston-Webb as the only remaining goofy-footer in the contest, but surfing her backhand proved no barrier for the Brazilian; a 9.27 individual wave helped her to a 17.20-13.67 win which gave her a third semi-final appearance in just four events.
An all-Australian affair kicked off the semis, with Wright coming up against Gilmore in a clash of the titans between two women boasting nine world titles between them. Wright continued the trend she’d developed over the first three rounds of the contest of improving her score each time she went out to surf, but unfortunately the same couldn’t be said of Gilmore. Coming off a 16.26 in the quarters, she managed just a 11.00 in the semis and was promptly sent on her way. Moore came up against Weston-Webb in the next, and after a solid start it all came undone for the world title favourite; she got in the way of Weston-Webb on her third wave and was called for interference, meaning her heat total would be made up of just one wave rather than two and virtually ending her hopes in the process. Weston-Webb kept the door ajar by failing to score in double figures, but Moore couldn’t get close.
Intriguingly, this left two women sitting outside the top five, but more than capable of winning the world title, in the final. Wright, in tenth at that point, needs every point she can get in the run home, and with a 15.67 in the final she gave herself every chance of racking up the full 10,000. Unfortunately for her, Weston-Webb tore J-Bay to shreds on her backhand. She took just four waves, but three of them scored 7.83 or higher and her top two combined gave her a massive heat total of 17.50, and with it her second event win of the season.
The two finalists at J-Bay were the big movers in the world rankings, with both Weston-Webb and Wright jumping up three spots. Weston-Webb slotted into third and now looks likely to compete at Trestles, but the future is a little more uncertain for Wright. She is sitting in seventh, just under 4,000 points behind Hennessy in fifth. With little separating third from fifth, if Wright can win or make the final at Tahiti she will be a decent chance of jumping into the top five, but anything less than that will see her struggle.
Lakey Peterson went in the other direction, plummeting from third to sixth and outside of finals qualification with just one event to go. She is, however, just marginally behind Hennessy, who hasn’t made it past the quarterfinals since the fourth event of the year, so with a good result in Tahiti can certainly still qualify.
Lower down the rankings, Bryan and Nichols are still theoretically a chance of making the top five if they have a big result in the final event of the year, but even if one of them won they would need certain other surfers to endure early exits. And, at the top of the leaderboard, Moore maintains a more-than-5,000-point lead on Defay in second, who in turn is 5,000 points ahead of Weston-Webb.
What’s Up Next?
The tenth and final event of the season is next up, with the Outerknown Tahiti Pro at Teahupo’o set to decide the final five, and with so little separating third from sixth and Tyler Wright looming ominously a little further back, there will be plenty on the line at this event. A heaving left-hand barrel, this is one of the heaviest waves in the world and one which will suit some surfers a hell of a lot more than others. The event window runs from the 11th through to the 21st of August, and with this event literally determining who will get a chance to compete for the world title, it will be the most hyped of the season to date.